Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

U.S. Attorney General Testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee; McCarthy Grants January 6 Defendants Access to Video Footage; Two Trains Collide in Greece; Ohio Senate Committee Hearing on Toxic Train Crash. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 01, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone.

AT THIS HOUR, the attorney general of the United States in the hot seat, facing the Senate for the first time this Congress.

Plus, the Ohio governor is visiting the site of that toxic train derailment in East Palestine AT THIS HOUR just as there's news of another train crash that's killed dozens of people overseas.

And TikTok taking what it considers a major step to limit daily screen time for young people.

How far does it go?

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We begin on Capitol Hill, where attorney general Merrick Garland is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee AT THIS HOUR. He's facing questions on everything from gun violence and social media regulation to the fentanyl crisis. And that's just in the first few minutes.

He is also expected to be asked about the special counsel investigations into President Biden and former president Trump and their handling of classified documents. And there's more.

Already facing questions about the ongoing investigation into President Biden's son, Hunter, that Republicans are pushing on. Paula Reid is watching all of this and she joins us now.

What sticks out to you so far?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I was pleasantly surprised that the first few rounds of questions from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were not focused on the investigations but instead on the issues facing Americans, on gun violence and fentanyl, pressing the attorney general on whether he can do enough, if he has enough resources and how much more they need to do.

Also the dangers of social media but of course, his first trip to Capitol Hill this year comes as the Justice Department is overseeing investigations into President Biden and into former president Trump and their handling of classified documents.

And about 45 minutes into the hearing he got his first question very much expected on the ongoing investigation into President Biden's son, Hunter. Let's take a listen to what he said as to why this was handled by a U.S. attorney and not a special counsel.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I promised to leave the matter of Hunter Biden in the hands of the U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware, who was appointed in the previous administration.

So any information like that should have gone or should or should have gone to that U.S. attorney's offices and the FBI squad that's working with him. I have pledged not to interfere with that investigation. And I have carried through on my pledge.


REID: And beyond this hearing, Republicans have pressed on whether this U.S. attorney, who was appointed by former president Trump, whether that official has enough political autonomy to conduct this investigation or whether it should be handed over to a special counsel.

The attorney general and the Justice Department have been clear that they believe that this U.S. attorney is fully capable of handling this investigation.

As he continues to go through the next few hours and particularly as we get to some of the more junior lawmakers, it is expected that they're going to dive in a more detailed way into some of these ongoing and very politically hot-button issues, including police reform.

Democrats will have a lot of questions about that. Republicans continuing to push this allegation that the Justice Department has been, quote, "weaponized." The attorney general, he's used what little time he was given in his opening statement to highlight the work of the over 100,000 employees of the Justice Department, who aren't working on these special counsel investigations.

BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you so much for that. Even in just the first few minutes, it is a good example and a good showing of all of the issues that the Justice Department has to take on, is covering, is handling and what his job is. We are seeing that in just the first few minutes of the lines of questioning. So Paula is all over it for us. Thank you, Paula. Also on the Hill, House Republicans are moving forward with the plan

to ensure that lawyers for those in the January 6th insurrection, that they'll have access to thousands of hours of video of the day.

And that's in addition to McCarthy already handing over video from security footage to FOX News' Tucker Carlson. Melanie Zanona is on the Hill.

What is Speaker McCarthy saying about this?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He has come under fire regarding the release of these January 6th tapes. Not only did he agree to give the exclusive to FOX News' host Tucker Carlson, someone who has spread conspiracy theories about it.


ZANONA: McCarthy is now making accommodations to allow lawyers for January 6th defendants to access this footage as well. But McCarthy is defending these moves and he said it's important for transparency and also for due process.

And he promised to give the footage to the rest of the media after Tucker airs his exclusive. Here's a little bit more of what he said.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think sunshine matters so I don't care what side of the issue you are on. That's why I think putting it all out to the American public, you can see the truth, see exactly what transpired that day and everyone can have the exact same information.


ZANONA: So there were also some concerns about the potential security risks of releasing this footage, including from some Republican members. That was something expressed to Kevin McCarthy during a private leadership meeting.

But we are told that Kevin McCarthy worked behind the scenes to assure his members that security would not be compromised and they're working in consultation with the Capitol Police to ensure that vulnerabilities was not exposed.

But McCarthy warned it's going to be a process and it could take time before the rest of the public sees this footage, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Melanie, thank you.

Joining me now for more on this is former prosecutor Elliot Williams.

Let's start with the attorney general and the ongoing hearing as he's testifying on a lot of big issues.

What do you make of what you've heard so far? ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He's staying on message. In my last job at the Justice Department, Kate, I was in legislative affairs and was prepping the attorney general for hearings like this.

The one goal that the attorney general wants is not to make any news that he didn't walk in the room wanting to make. What's far more important to the senators are the speeches they give, that they can then put on the internet, saying, I asked the attorney general this.

But don't fight with them, validate the question.

"Senator, you and I agree that public safety is important," and then get out of there. And I think that's what's so far he seems to have been doing.

BOLDUAN: Goal number one, make no news is what you're saying.


BOLDUAN: Garland did say to that point, Garland did say in his opening statement that the department wants to operate by speaking through its actions. And he doesn't want to divulge too much about ongoing investigations.

When it comes to the special counsel investigations into Biden and Trump, there's a lot of reporting around it. There's a lot of conversation about it.

What do you think he can or should say at this point?

WILLIAMS: Those are two very different questions. He can say whatever he wants. Other than grand jury information that is protected under law, the Justice Department is legally free to say whatever they want about investigations.

But as we've seen over, frankly, the years, the more information that gets out about criminal investigations, the worse it is for the public. Number one, it starts outing -- could potentially start outing people who are being investigated but have not been charged with a crime.

And number two, it starts getting in the hands of prospective jurors.

Number three, starts tainting the jury pool where they start hearing evidence and information.

So it's really in the interest of the American people for any attorney general just to not on the record and speak through the things they put on paper and file in courts.

BOLDUAN: Does the same go for the investigation in to Hunter Biden?

You heard when Grassley asked him about it.

WILLIAMS: It really does and I think something he stressed is that, wink, wink, nod, nod, the person who is overseeing it is a Trump appointee. And the attorney general reiterated that point, even though he didn't say those words.

The Justice Department is able to investigate a high-profile person. Now the difference between Hunter Biden and Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who are also being investigated in different ways, is that Hunter Biden isn't running for office.

He's a private citizen even though his dad is a very prominent American citizen. So, yes, the Justice Department can and frankly should investigate Hunter Biden without outsourcing it to a special counsel. And he did say that.

BOLDUAN: House Judiciary chair Republican Jim Jordan is pushing on this quite hard. He calls it "conspicuous," that the Justice Department has not appointed a special counsel. Jordan has been asking for one for years.

You don't see a reason for that to happen?

WILLIAMS: No, under the law -- or the Justice Department guidelines -- a special counsel ought to be appointed when, quote-unquote, "extraordinary circumstances exist that would render it impossible for the Justice Department to fairly do its job."

The Justice Department investigates high-profile people all the time. And frankly, when I was there, investigated some, charged some and investigated some and didn't charge some. And it's perfectly possible, again.

The extraordinary circumstance in both Joe Biden and Donald Trump is they're running for president. It's the former president and the current one. And that's just something that's a spectacular moment in American history.

This here, look, Hunter Biden is very high profile.


WILLIAMS: But he's not running for office and is not a president, is not an elected official. The Justice Department is more than capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time and can certainly investigate him fairly.

BOLDUAN: You heard Melanie Zanona reporting, McCarthy has now given access to the Capitol security camera footage, to some of the defendants charged in the insurrection and this is after he's given it to FOX News host Tucker Carlson.

How -- what do you think of it?

How do you make of how he's handling this?

Are they the same thing?

WILLIAMS: No, they're definitely not the same thing. With respect to the defendants, if they have been charged with a crime, a federal court has probably already found that there's probable cause to believe they've committed a crime.

The Justice Department has evidence of it already. So getting more footage, given only to the defendant, doesn't change the evidence that's already been used against them to charge them with a crime.

Now the bigger issue is, why is the Speaker of the House doing it?

Is he doing it because in fact sunshine, is quote-unquote, "a disinfectant" and he wants to help people mount a robust defense?

Or is he trying to get off people who committed crimes against the United States?

And that second part is sort of icky. I think the Tucker Carlson example is a little bit worse, because there's the potential to shift the public narrative around wrongdoing and crime in the United States.

Now maybe a national dialogue about January 6th isn't a bad thing. But I think that's probably far more toxic than giving information to defendants, who have already been charged with a crime and still may be convicted of them.

BOLDUAN: And also promising that then you will release it to all other media organizations but only after Tucker Carlson gives his spin on it first.

Good to see you, Elliot, thanks.

WILLIAMS: No problem.

BOLDUAN: Now turning to Ukraine, where the situation is growing more desperate for a key town in the east. Russian forces are continuing their offensive against the battered city of Bakhmut, which has endured heavy shelling.

Approximately 4,500 civilians, including dozens of children, are essentially trapped at this time. Alex Marquardt is covering this live for us.

What are you hearing about what is really happening in Bakhmut?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it is extraordinary to think that there are 4,500 people still in that city. They have been warned for months that they need to get out.

It's been the scene of such extraordinary fighting that has really ratcheted up in the past few days. The president, Zelenskyy of Ukraine, saying that that is where the fiercest fighting in the country is taking place.

The Ukrainian defenses are getting battered by Russian forces. Both sides have taken significant losses. We did hear from a spokesman for the Ukrainian military in this part of the country today, who says there has not been any decision about whether to withdraw. If that were to happen, Kate, that would be described as a strategic

withdrawal, that they're pulling back to save the lives of their fighters. For now, Ukraine is trying to stand that ground, prevent Russia from taking over this town in eastern Donbas.

The Russian fighters, which have been primarily led by the mercenaries and convicts of the Wagner private military company, they are trying to encircle the city and trying to take it over.

And they claim they've taken territory north of the city. Kate. If Russia were to take Bakhmut, it would be significant. It might not change things significantly on the battlefield.

This would be a symbolic victory for Russia because this fight has been going on for so long, because both sides have lost so many people, because it would be yet another foothold for Russia in Donbas.

But you can be sure right now, Kate, that Ukraine is trying to dig in west of the city to make sure that, if Russia takes Bakhmut, that the effect is reduced and they won't be able to push much farther from there.

But that is not a foregone conclusion. The fight is still very much raging in Ukraine, trying to hold its ground. Kate.

BOLDUAN: And the fighting continues in a very, very big way. Thanks, Alex.

A train full of passengers collides head-on with a freight train overnight in Greece.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Look at these pictures; 36 people are now confirmed dead. We have a live report and the very latest on why they think this happened -- next.






BOLDUAN: A head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train, it's killed at least 36 people and injured more than 80 others in Greece. Multiple cars, you can see some of the aftermath right here, multiple cars derailed, with several of them catching fire. Eleni Giokos is covering this.

And tell us about the very latest you're learning.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 36 people have lost their lives. It is anticipated that that number is going to rise. And what is even more concerning, it's 19 hours after that head-on collision between two trains, one freight train and a passenger train.

And the news that we are hearing is that the passenger train at some point changed tracks and was running on the same line as that freight train, a head-on collision.


GIOKOS: Two of the carriages catching fire so intense, reaching 1,300 degrees Celsius, very difficult to put out and importantly, the people who were at risk in the carriages were desperately trying to get out. And we heard from some of their experiences. I want you to listen in.


STERGIOS MINENIS, PASSENGER (through translator): We heard a big bang, 10 nightmarish seconds we were turning over in the wagon until we fell on our sides, until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic. Cables, fire -- and the fire was immediate. As we were turning over, we were being burned. Fire was right and left.

It was panic for 10-15 seconds. It was chaos; tumbling over, fires, cables hanging, broken windows, people screaming, people trapped. It was two meters high from where we jumped to leave. And beneath there were broken iron debris.

But what could we do?


GIOKOS: Now 155 fighters are still on the scene, trying to work through the mangled metal, trying to see if there are more people that lost their lives. We are hearing that families are at the Larissa hospital, weeping, crying, waiting to hear news of their loved ones.

The victims so badly burned that they have to do DNA testing to identify people. Three days of national mourning has been announced as well, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Eleni, thank you very much. We'll continue to get updates on this.

Let's turn here to another train derailment we have covered so much on this show and on the network. Now to the toxic train derailment in the U.S. Ohio governor Mike DeWine and his wife are in East Palestine and they're getting a first-hand look at the disaster site and an update on the removal of hazardous waste.

Right now they are meeting with school officials at East Palestine High School. This visit comes as crews are beginning to remove the train tracks in order to clean the waste, the toxic waste, that will be found underneath those tracks now.

Later today, the Ohio State Senate Select Committee on Rail Safety is going to be holding a hearing to review the train disaster and see what steps they can take to prevent it from ever happening again. Joining us is a member of that committee, Nickie Antonio.

Thank you for coming in.

What do you think will come out of this hearing today that you will be holding?

NICKIE ANTONIO (D-OH), STATE SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Well, first, we need to clarify exactly what did happen, why it happened. And then we have to come up with some solutions moving forward, to make this state safer, train rail safety.

BOLDUAN: Much of rail safety is regulated on the federal level and not the state level.

How much can you actually do on the state level to fix this or prevent this from happening again?

Or do you, broadly speaking, do you feel like your hands are kind of tied when it comes to railways?

ANTONIO: Well, it's frustrating because we are keeping told that there's not a lot we can do. We're trying to dig in and find out exactly what we can do. We do believe we have some purview to be able to talk about the length of trains; that is not in the federal purview.

We're hoping that perhaps that's an area where we can have a discussion. We know Arizona is looking at that right now and we want to look at that, as well. Part of the reason for these hearings is to be able to clarify what we can do at the state level and what we need to hold the feet to the fire at the federal level to make changes.

BOLDUAN: Let ask you about the federal level, because just this morning a bipartisan group of senators announced that they'll be introducing a bill taking this on. The details of it have not yet been released and they haven't introduced legislation yet.

But the broad strokes as they've announced it seem to be aimed at things that you've been talking about, like requiring two-person crews and enhancing procedures for inspections on trains carrying hazardous waste and increasing fines for violations.

Have you been talking to Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance about this?

ANTONIO: Certainly we talked to Senator Brown's office. We sent letters to both Senator Brown and members of the -- of the federal level, talking about to Congress, asking specifically for those things.

We've also been introducing legislation here in the state for a two- person crew and other things as we've gone on, absolutely. These are important safety aspects that we hope to have.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, there has been in the aftermath of all of this, there's been criticism from people of East Palestine of the federal government's response to the derailment there, that they were slow to respond.

Are you happy with how the federal government has handled it so far?


ANTONIO: I think the federal government was quick to respond. I think there's a lot of misinformation out there. And so I know that's confusing. I think the most important thing is that it's all hands on deck right now and that people make sure that the folks in East Palestine and the surrounding area are cared for and their health is considered.

Whatever they need needs to come into East Palestine right now.

BOLDUAN: Would you like to see President Biden visit?

Because that's one thing that has been raised and they still say there's no plans for him to visit.

ANTONIO: You know, I'm not sure that that's a necessary step. I think that the -- I was happy to see the Transportation Secretary come in. I've been pleased that EPA has been there.

I -- you know, if that's something that the administration thinks is appropriate, then I support it. But I think, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we get the resources in there that those folks need.

The minute there was that emergency designation, which we pushed for in my office, to make sure that those federal funds and EPA and FEMA started getting on the ground there, I think that's the most important thing that will help the people right now.

BOLDUAN: All right. We'll stay on top of it, thank you, state senator, for coming on.

ANTONIO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: A move TikTok says will cut down on teenagers' screen time but there's a catch. That's ahead.